This Lake Charles chef is a world-class sugar sculptor.
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On a heated stovetop, inside two large stainless steel pots, sugar melts and bubbles up into a gooey consistency. Within minutes the bubbles form a sweet reduction syrup, the molecular origin of a creation that will emerge steadily over the next two and a half hours. The creator, chef Bill Foltz, a man many pastry chefs consider to be one of the world’s greatest sugar sculptors, has begun a piece for his Acadiana Profile interview in the middle of a busy week. He moves quickly around his kitchen, wearing a pair of blue nitrile gloves and a cool look of concentration that makes one think he could do this kind of work in his sleep. Indeed, after more than 20 years of award-winning work that has brought him worldwide recognition, it’s a safe bet to say that he can.
Foltz checks the internal temperature of the syrup in one of the pots with a sugar thermometer and reduces the heat. He wraps a towel around the pot’s handle and pours the white-colored liquid carefully into a silicone mold of cut-out shapes. The syrup oozes evenly around the corners, filling out each shape with a glassy shine. He then turns to the second pot of syrup, which has now reached its proper temperature. Using an eyedropper, Foltz pinches several specks of green into the syrup, mixes it into a beautiful emerald color, and pours some of it into the remaining cut-out shapes in the mold. When he’s done, Foltz then pours some of the syrup into silicone spherical molds that will form small dome-shaped pieces. He dumps the rest of the green syrup onto a small heat-resistant mat where it will begin to cool. Across from him on the table sits a portable heating element that keeps an amber-colored glob of sugar warm beneath its glow.
At this point it’s impossible to discern what Foltz plans to create. But the sugar that rests on the table before him is in good hands – literally. They are the hands of a West Point, N.Y., native, a self-described “Air Force brat,” whose commitment to excellence in pastry has won him numerous medals and praise of critics on both sides of the Atlantic.
“There are certain prerequisites I like to incorporate into my sugar,” says Foltz, who is executive pastry chef at Ember Grille & Wine Bar, a high-end restaurant located at L’Auberge Casino Resort in Lake Charles. “But first, the color has to be right and you have to have complimenting colors. I like to incorporate different clarities in my sugar, both translucent and opaque. I also like having different textures infused into my sugar. But in the end, everything has to be in harmony.”
Foltz’s harmonious approach to sugar sculptures has proven to be a recipe for success. His sculptures won him Best of Show awards at the U.S. Pastry Competition four times between 2000 and 2006, while also earning him the event’s Chef of the Year honors in 2006. His work has also won gold medals from the French Consulate in Paris for Best Pastillage and from the Annual Salon of Culinary Arts.
But it was in Lyon, France, last year where Foltz’s career reached its apex at the Coupe du Monde de la Patisserie. Often compared to the Olympics, the Coupe du Monde is a biannual, two-day, worldwide pastry competition in which 24 teams from around the world are given eight hours to produce a sugar sculpture, a chocolate sculpture, an ice sculpture, an entremet (a chocolate cake about an inch and a half high that is infused with many intense flavors), and an entremet glacé, the dessert’s frozen equivalent, all of which must be based on the event’s theme for the year. Each country represented sends a team of three chefs and an alternate.
“It’s an intense competition,” Foltz says. “You don’t eat, and you pace your drinking habits so you don’t have to go to the bathroom. I take a sip of water every now and then and break a Powerbar into pieces and pop one in my mouth every now and then. You run on adrenaline, and after the eight hours have passed you’re a new person.”
The Coupe du Monde’s judges are renowned pastry chefs in their own right, chosen among those who have been named a Master of France (MOF) by the French government. Judges individually score each team’s work based on flavor, artistry, technique, and teamwork. As to be expected in a culinary competition, flavor carries the most weight in each score given.